Recovering from ISIS Captivity

Coping with the effects of sexual assault and rape is overwhelming. It is a complex form of trauma that breaches the physical, mental, and spiritual trust of a person against their will. Due to high levels of stress caused by abuse, a person can experience chronic fatigue and many other symptoms.

Two weeks after her rescue, Souhayla, a Yazidi native of Iraq, was still experiencing many of these symptoms. She could not sit up. Her physical injuries were significant, but fortunately, not life-threatening. The sixteen year old’s near unconsciousness was the result of severe shock after three years of serial rape as a captive of ISIS.

Souhayla’s village was raided by ISIS in 2014. Citing a defunct statute of Islamic law, ISIS deemed the Yazidi ethnic minority eligible for enslavement. Soulhayla was held as a prisoner is Mosul, Iraq where she was raped time and time again by multiple men. She was later moved to an area of Mosul that was riddled with armed conflict. It was here that her captor was killed in an airstrike, destroying much of his house. She found the strength to climb through the debris to an Iraqi checkpoint. She was later reunited with her family.

Now back home, Souhayla is slowly recovering, as is common for women who have suffered this type of abuse. Almost 90% of these women slip into a coma-like shock after their rescue as a way of dealing with the psychological trauma they have endured. At first, many show an alarming amount of indoctrinate, unable to abandon their ISIS ideals.

3,410 Yazidi people remain captive or unaccounted for as the conflict in the Middle East continues. Souhayla and her family hope that their story will raise awareness of this abomination of human rights and bring rescue and healing to girls like her.

You can read more of Souhayla’s story here.

Migration from Central America

How can we not be shocked after the tragedy that we have seen these past days in San Antonio?

An overheated trailer carrying many migrants–possibly from the border–was found in a Walmart parking lot. Ten men lost their lives and others are still in precarious conditions. Police believe it is a case of smuggling and/or human trafficking and are still investigating.

“This happens more often than we care to imagine,” Jonathan Ryan, Executive Director of RAICES, told USA Today. “We see it day in and day out in our offices.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons identifies a clear link between illegal migration and trafficking in persons. In fact, migration exacerbates trafficking.

However, in North America, some migration flows are particularly vulnerable to traffickers. Presently, the majority of persons migrating to the United States are from Central America. They are particularly at risk because of their long trek through Mexico which is infamous for cartels and gangs preying on migrants.

These cartels and gangs have birthed a new reality for migrants. A reality of abduction of persons or groups of migrants, held in order to require from them–or their families–ransom in exchange for release. Human beings are being increasingly considered merchandise. Not only is anyone hoping to reach the U.S. border via Mexico expected to pay a “right of exit” imposed by the reigning local cartels, but, as migrants near the border, smugglers (also known as “coyotes”) must be paid to lead the immigrants across the border.

So where are these migrants coming from and why are they coming?

Over the past few years, the violence led by criminal gangs has created worse living conditions throughout Central American, particularly in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Territorial conflicts among the gangs have created a climate of violence, terror, and fear that has eroded the social fabric in communities. In desperation, men, women, and children have been fleeing their homelands seeking simply to survive and, hopefully, create a better life for their families. For many, migration is the only option.

In some regions of these countries, the law of the gang is absolute. Young people are extremely vulnerable of being recruited through intimidation and threats of violence against them or their families. They are under pressure to become drug dealers, thieves, or intimidators. Often, families prefer to see their sons and daughters flee their homeland rather than be killed or forced into a criminal lifestyle. As a result, many teens and children are encouraged, even begged, to leave their country, often times without a parent.

What do these migrants face on their way to a better life?

According to reports by migrants who have successfully made it across the U.S. border, violence continues throughout the entire migration route, particularly in Mexico. Most of these individuals are vulnerable due to their lack of legal documentation to allow them to cross Mexico safely. Many are frequently forced to pay traffickers working directly with organized crime networks to avoid being exploited into labor and sex trafficking.

These migrants also often face a systematic cycle of abuse. Public transportation drivers apply higher rates, corrupt police officers require them to pay to continue on their way, gangs claiming to be migrants infiltrate and assault them, organized crime groups inflict violence ranging from extortion to rape, torture, and kidnapping. Every penny is taken from the migrants whenever an opportunity arises. Sadly, many lose their lives.

Perhaps the starkest example of the commonality of brutality on the journey is that many women take contraceptives before their departure from Central America. They know the journey contains a high risk of sexual assault. Credible estimates are that 80% of women migrating through Mexico are raped.

Upon reaching the United States border, most Central Americans admit to their origins, seeking entrance as refugees fleeing from violence and death in their homeland. They are put through a process called “credible fear” so they are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship while it is not safe to return to their country of origin.

Local churches in the United States provide a safe haven and passage for these migrants once they cross the border. These organizations aid them on the trips to their families or sponsors. Further, the USCCB coordinates a coalition to alert people and work against human trafficking.

As long as violence and poverty persist in their home country, nothing will discourage these migrants from taking the risk of the journey to the United States. It is not possible to take away their hopes of a better life, especially for their children. Any solution to this problem will require an analysis of every factor involved in the process of migration.

My recent experience of visiting our Sisters at their shelter for migrants at Reynosa on the Mexican border saddened me greatly. The majority of migrants had been deported. They had been taken from their families after working, paying taxes, leading a crime-free life for 20-25 years, only to be dumped in a highly dangerous, gang-infested area, the very atmosphere from which they had fled years prior. You could see the hopelessness, the sadness, the terror that they were now experiencing once again.

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

The World Day Against Trafficking in persons was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/68/192. It is to take place tomorrow, July 30.

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. Every year, thousands of men, women, and children fall into the hands of traffickers in their own countries and abroad. Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking whether as a country of origin, transit, or destination for victims. UNODC, as a guardian of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the protocols thereto assists States in their efforts to implement the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Trafficking in Persons Protocol).

Article 3 paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

So, how can you help?

Learn about the local and global reality of human trafficking.
Pray for an end to human trafficking.
Demand slave-free products and buy fair trade when possible.
Advocate for state and federal legislation that protects victims and prevents human trafficking.

Originally published by the United Nations.

San Antonio Tragedy

Early yesterday morning, 38 individuals were found dead or near death in a big rig trailer parked in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas. They were discovered by an employee after a man had approached him begging for water. Thirty of these individuals were taken to nearby hospitals in critical condition with signs of heat stroke and dehydration after being locked in the trailer without water or air conditioning in the crippling 100+ degree heat. The other eight were found dead on the scene. A ninth and tenth died after arriving at the hospital.

The number of individuals who had already been taken from the trailer is unknown. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus stated, “Checking the video, there were a number of vehicles that came and picked up other people who were in that trailer.”

These individuals–all of whom were between the ages of 15 and 40–were victims of human trafficking. An investigation is underway to confirm the nationalities of these individuals, but it is suspected they may be immigrants entering from Mexico. The origin of the truck is still undetermined.

This isn’t the first time in recent months that a similar situation has been discovered along the US/Mexico border. In fact, earlier this month, Border Patrol found 72 Latin Americans in a trailer and 44 other individuals in the same situation in June.

With the recent emphasis being placed on reducing the number of immigrants living in the country illegally, raids on suspected illegal immigrants have become more frequent. These are the same policies making it more likely to make it more difficult to prevent, identify, and stop human trafficking. This is due to immigrants being fearful to approach law enforcement, despite San Antonio’s policy of not asking about the immigration status of those with whom they come in contact.

A vigil was held to honor the victims of this horrific tragedy. The Interfaith Welcome Coalition and RAICES were present alongside other agencies involved in immigrant rights and Daughters of Charity living in San Antonio.

Since hearing about this incident, I am deeply shocked about what I’ve read. How can we treat other human beings this way? These migrants were likely fleeing violence, gangs, and cartels in their countries of origin, desperate enough to be smuggled into the United States. Please join me in praying for them and their loved ones.

You can read more and keep up with the multiagency investigation here.

Modern Day Story of the Good Samaritan

“When the man walked in with fang marks on his leg, the volunteers knew the protocol: In the case of a rattlesnake bite, you call 911. But like all of the patients who end up here, his very presence in this desert clinic meant he had broken American law.”

This is an excerpt of an article written about a clinic in Arizona. Many of the clinic’s patients have entered America illegally. These medical professionals try to save lives without breaking the law.

In reading this article, the story of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 10:25-37) came to me. I was moved to tears and, at the same time, full of gratitude for the Good Samaritans serving in the desert at the American border.

I was also reminded of my recent visit to one of the shelters run by Daughters of Charity from Mexico at the Mexican-American border. There, I witnessed the hardships each migrant fleeing the Northern Triangle faces before reaching the United States border. During my time there, numerous adult men arrived after being deported and taken away from their families. It was just a heartbreaking experience!

Indeed, the lessons of the Good Samaritan are still of value today.

Instead of building a new wall–a larger wall to keep people out at the expense of billions of dollars–instead of allowing people to die of thirst and hunger in the desert; instead of letting people be exploited by those who charge them such high amounts to try to bring them across our border; instead of pushing them away…if we listen to the law of God in our hearts, would we not give up that indifference? Sometimes it’s even more than indifference. It’s xenophobia. We begin to hate these people and push them back when we should be accepting them.

American Citizens in Mexico

It’s 8 AM at the Mexican-American border and there is already a lengthy line forming at the Port of Entry. No, it’s not made up of tourists and families. Instead, it’s made up almost exclusively of children carrying backpacks filled with notebooks, markers, and lunches. Where are these children going? They’re going to school.

For almost 800 American students, this is a daily norm. JoAnna is no different. A fifth grader at a public school in Columbus, New Mexico, JoAnna, an American citizen, lives with her family in Palomas, Mexico.

For her, it’s a free education as New Mexico’s state constitution grants American citizens a free education no matter where they reside. However, hundreds of other students cross the border to attend costly private schools in places such as El Paso, Texas.

Many of these children have parents who were deported by the American government. Instead of sacrificing their child’s education or leaving the deported family member behind, they move to border cities in Mexico where they can have the best of both worlds–a family and the opportunity of an American education.

In JoAnna’s school, two-thirds of the students live in Palomas. It would be easy for the children from Columbus to isolate those living in Mexico, but instead they interact just like any other group of fifth grade girls. “We usually talk about what we’re going to play outside and secrets…But I can’t tell you,” JoAnna laughs.

You can read more about JoAnna and her classmates here.

More Refugees Stopping in Mexico

After facing gang violence and other disasters that tore apart their families and homes, many Central Americans are forced to flee their country in search of safety. In the past, many of these individuals had their sights set on the United States. Now, however, due to recent changes in the US immigration laws, many of these asylum seekers are choosing to remain in Mexico and observe the US immigration climate from a distance…at least for a while.

One young mother fled to Mexico after narrowly escaping violence in her home country of Guatemala. She envisions a life in America, a life where she can reunite with her father and two sons. But for now, she remains in Mexico, waiting for a window of opportunity to achieve her dream.

She is not alone. The number of asylum applications was 8,781 in 2016. This number is expected to rise to 22,500 in 2017. However, with Mexico’s grip on migrant regulation tightening, Central Americans seeking asylum are forced to move faster and more dangerously before. The risks and uncertainty that refugees hoped to leave behind instead follow them as they search for safety and security.

While their stay in Mexico may mean extra months or years before a reunion with family members, it provides Central American refugees a haven to safely plan the rest of their journey. They remain hopeful for permanent asylum in Mexico, Canada, or the United States and for a better life than the one they are running from.

You can read more on why refugees are staying longer in Mexico here.